Morning Headlines for Slovenia: Saturday, 21 March 2020

By , 21 Mar 2020, 04:20 AM News
Morning Headlines for Slovenia: Saturday, 21 March 2020 Flickr - Paul Keller CC by 2.0

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This summary is provided by the STA:

Slovenia enters lockdown mode

LJUBLJANA - Slovenia entered lockdown mode at midnight as the government issued decree prohibiting the movement and gathering of people in public places until further notice. There are exemptions to ensure society can function. Individuals may leave their homes for a public place mindful of keeping a safe distance and only for work-related activities, to eliminate immediate threats to health, life and property, to care for people in need of support, and to access shops that remain open. People may access public parks and other areas for walking. Local communities may make more detailed rules depending on the community's needs. Slovenia registered 341 confirmed coronavirus cases by 2pm, up by 22 in the last 24 hours.

Minister to seek police powers for army next week to secure border

LJUBLJANA - Interior Minister Aleš Hojs expects he will present his proposal to invoke legislation that would give the army police powers to deputy factions next week. He says the sole purpose of the measure is to secure Slovenia's south border against increasing illegal migration. Addressing the nation, Hojs said he would formally submit the proposal to activate article 37.a of the defence act for inter-departmental adjustment today, which should be completed by Monday. He thus expects to be able to present the reasons for the activation to all deputy factions in parliament next week. The move would need to be endorsed by a two-thirds majority in parliament. Meanwhile, the government said today that the Armed Forces are inviting all who wish to help in these difficult times to sign up as volunteers or for temporary military service.

Parliament passes package of laws to mitigate fallout of coronavirus crisis

LJUBLJANA - Parliament passed a package of laws aimed at mitigating the impact of the coronavirus crisis. Measures include pay compensation for temporary lay-offs, credit payment and tax duty deferrals for companies, as well as trade restrictions for agriculture and food products. One act gives the government complete discretion in the use of budget funds approved for purposes not deemed part of legally binding tasks. Another will allow banks to defer liabilities of companies, co-operatives, self-employed and farmers by 12 months.

Minister assures public there is enough food for months

LJUBLJANA - Agriculture Minister Aleksandra Pivec assured the public that there is enough basic foodstuffs in Slovenia for a few months as she assuaged fears about possible supply disruptions. Pivec said the situation was constantly monitored, backup plans were in place in case of disruption in existing food supply channels and procedures had been launched to supply products from other countries if necessary. There may however be sporadic problems with the supply of fresh fruit, such as citrus and tropical fruit, and certain vegetables - foods that Slovenia mostly imports from Italy.

Govt shortens opening hours of grocery stores

LJUBLJANA - Facing a strike threat in protest against an emergency decree forcing grocery stores to be open from 8am to 8pm, the government adopted changes to the decree by pushing the closing time to 6pm, as demanded by the trade union of shop assistants. The restrictions do not apply for smaller retailers. While the government's reasoning was that longer opening hours mean less people in the store at the same time, the union argues longer opening hours mean that shop assistants are exposed to the risk of a coronavirus infection for longer, and work overtime.

Power prices for households and SMEs cut by 20%

LJUBLJANA - To ease the impact of the coronavirus fallout, the government issued a decree reducing electricity prices for households and small businesses by about 20% for the next three months. The government said it suspended payment of contributions for subsidies for high-efficiency cogeneration and renewables for small business consumers and households. The suspension, valid between 1 March and 31 May, is estimated to reduce electricity bills for the two types of consumers by about 20%.

Expert: Current testing regime rational, not ideal

LJUBLJANA - Alojz Ihan, a recognised expert in immunology, believes Slovenia's current regime of testing for coronavirus, which focuses on groups at greatest risk such as health staff and the elderly, is optimal and clinically rational even though many of the infected would remain undetected. Broad testing would not contribute to better clinical treatment of the disease, while it would engage many more health workers, protective equipment, entry points, tests, lab capacities. Ihan also proposes frequent mandatory testing of all health staff.

Ivan Eržen named acting director of public health institute

LJUBLJANA - The governing council of the National Public Health Institute (NIJZ) appointed Ivan Eržen the acting director after the government relieved Nina Pirnat of her duties and moved her to the Health Ministry's Healthcare Directorate. Eržen had already headed the NIJZ between 2014 and 2018. Explaing Pirnat relocation, made at the behest of Health Minister Tomaž Gantar, the NIJZ highlighted Pirnat's "engagement in the management of the coronavirus epidemic, broad knowledge of the healthcare system and the need to strengthen the staff at the directorate."

Government Communication Office gets new acting head

LJUBLJANA - Only days after being appointed, Miro Petek was dismissed as acting director of the Government Communication Office (UKOM) and replaced by Uroš Urbanija, a former STA home desk editor. Urbanija, who has also worked as editor at the public broadcaster's news web portal MMC RTV Slovenija and commercial broadcaster Planet TV, is appointed as of 21 March under a decision taken by the government at today's correspondence session. Miro Petek, a journalist, former MP and press officer for PM Janez Janša's Democratic Party (SDS), was named to the post at the maiden session of the Janša government following Friday's appointment.

Unions angered by pay rise for top government officials

LJUBLJANA - Several trade unions have criticised the new government's decision to raise the pay of the ministers and state secretaries to the highest possible allowed for these posts in the public sector pay system. They find the move inappropriate, especially in the crisis situation Slovenia is in now. While criticism also came from the Association of Pensioners, the government offered a more detailed explanation of its decision today, saying that no rules had been changed to allow for the pay rise. Given the current situation and a significant increase in the scope of work, the pay was raised in line with the existing legislation, it said.

Criticism as some reject repatriation flight

LJUBLJANA - Poland assisted Slovenia in evacuating citizens stranded abroad due to air traffic cancellations and restrictions by providing 19 seats on a flight from the Canary Islands to Warsaw on Thursday night, however seven Slovenians decided to "wait for a better option" and did not board the flight. Andrej Šter, the head of the Foreign Ministry's consular service, criticised the conduct and warned that the window for returning to Europe or Slovenia was closing rapidly. He deems the decision of those who had dismissed the opportunity "a catastrophic gesture including for our future cooperation with Poland".

Slovenia joins efforts to develop new coronavirus vaccine

LJUBLJANA - The Slovenian Centre of Excellence for Biosensors, Instrumentation and Process Control (COBIK) has started developing a coronavirus vaccine in cooperation with Slovenian and international companies, research institutes and universities. The main goal of the consortium is to develop a platform which would enable fast creation of vaccines in case of similar epidemics. According to Matjaž Peterko, the head of the COBIK, development could take between less than a year and a few years, depending on how fast testing can proceed.

Slovenia does not understand why IOC refuses to postpone Tokyo

LJUBLJANA - The Slovenian Olympic Committee (OKS) has expressed puzzlement over the International Olympic Committee's continuing refusal (IOC) to postpone the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo, which are scheduled to take place between 24 July and 9 August. "They say it is too soon to postpone, but we think the opposite. It will be not possible to organise the games in July under the Olympic principle," OKS president Bogdan Gabrovec said. He believes that athletes lack the appropriate conditions to prepare for the games as restrictive measures are being imposed to contain the spread of the new coronavirus.

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